UCLA was searching for a spark on defense Saturday night when a hand went up.
It belonged to defensive end Marcus Moore, a redshirt freshman who wanted to help in the early going of a game against Arizona State that was already tilting heavily in the Sun Devils’ direction.
The Bruins had endured a dropped touchdown pass, a missed field goal, two penalties on the same punt return, an interception and an offsides penalty on Moore that negated a third-down stop. The Sun Devils were already ahead by two touchdowns and it was only late in the first quarter.
That’s when Moore recognized that he would be the recipient of a cut block by his counterpart along the Arizona State offensive line, a tipoff that the Sun Devils were going to try a screen pass. It was a play the Bruins had prepared for in practice all week and occasionally struggled to defend, causing coaches to have them try again on Friday.
Moore knew what to do this time. He instinctively thrust his arm into the air and the ball deflected off his hand. It sailed upward before landing in the hands of UCLA cornerback Nate Meadors, who ran 27 yards for what might have been a game-saving pick-six during the Bruins’ 44-37 triumph at the Rose Bowl.
Said Meadors: “That brought a ton of energy.”
Said Moore: “It was pretty alive out there.”
Moore could be seen smiling a few different times during the game, exhibiting a joy that had been missing among UCLA’s beleaguered defense for most of the season.
Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen said players made a point of having more fun, tuning out the negativity generated by the team’s struggles.
“Enjoy the game of football more or not really worrying about record or bowl games or anything that happens after the season or anything that happens tomorrow,” Rosen said of the players’ mindset. “Let’s just focus on today, being with one another.
“It’s a special time in our lives and I think we need to just kind of lighten the load on our backs a little bit and just have fun.”
It was a pleasurable day for UCLA’s defense even though it yielded 584 yards, including 294 yards on the ground, because it forced Arizona State to kick three field goals after the Sun Devils had first downs inside the Bruins’ 12-yard line.
“We were scoring seven and they were getting three,” UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, “and I’ve always been taught it takes three field goals to beat a touchdown, so sometimes that’s good defense.”
It can also be a lot of fun.
A banner day
The fans who funded airplane banners that flew over the Rose Bowl a few hours before kickoff (calling for the dismissal of Jim Mora) might have been doing the embattled coach a favor.
Rosen and receiver Jordan Lasley said they were driven to win by the public show of displeasure.
“That they would go really out of their way to really show the banners and everything, I thought it was kind of funny,” Lasley said, “but it definitely motivated us. It got us energized.”
Rosen called the banners “absurd,” “disrespectful” and “disgusting,” implying that it was wasted money given that “some parents of kids on our team don’t make $30,000 in a year” and that Mora had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for clean water in Africa.
UCLA fan Michael Peters, who organized the banner flyovers, said that fans had donated $8,745 toward the cause as of early Sunday morning. Banners are also scheduled to be flown over the UCLA campus expressing dissatisfaction with athletic director Dan Guerrero, though those flyovers have been postponed until Nov. 20 to avoid distractions during rivalry week before the game against USC..
Rosen said there are more appropriate channels for fan discontent.
“If you don’t think coach Mora should be our coach,” Rosen said, “go talk to our AD yourself. Don’t publicly do something stupid that costs an unnecessary amount of money. That’s ridiculous. We love our coach. We all would do anything for him and know he would do anything for us.”
Rosen overtook Drew Olson for third place on the UCLA all-time list in passing yards (8,677), total offense (8,592) and completions (666). … Mora said safety Jaleel Wadood did not play because of neck soreness, but the Bruins were hopeful he could return Saturday against USC.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch